Archive | In My Mind’s I by Harriet Gross

How Oscar winner helped me learn history of Jackson, Ohio

Posted on 13 March 2019 by admin

Sometimes it’s funny, the way things connect. Here’s my most recent proof of that point…
As I read The Dallas Morning News, I cut out articles and bits of information that I think will be of particular interest to family and friends in other places. I call this “correspondence by clipping,” and find it an excellent — and often time-saving — way to promote connection and closeness across many miles.
I have a dear friend from many years ago, when we both labored in Chicago’s south suburbs in the fields of intergroup relations. Don was our town’s community relations director, and I was on its citizens’ committee, so we worked closely on many projects having to deal with successful integration and the maintenance thereof. Remember: That was back in the ’60s, when we made decisions that seemed right and good at the time, but eventually backfired on us — like school busing. Oh, well…
Now Don is retired and living in Philadelphia, where he’s become an avid letter writer to The Daily Inquirer. In my last note, I asked him if he had yet gotten to see Oscar-winning film “The Green Book” and if he was aware that Jews used to have a similar book, one that helped travelers avoid the places with “no dogs/no Jews”policies that didn’t advertise them on signs outside.
No, he hasn’t seen the movie yet; yes, he knows about the Jewish book; and he’s had an interesting personal experience w/the real “Green Book.” Here is his ever-clear memory of the days he lived and worked in Ohio, before coming to Illinois:
“In 1968, I stayed for several weeks at Mrs. Moorman’s Tourist Home in Jackson, Ohio. I had left the Toledo Board of Community Relations to become the Jackson Human Relations Commission’s executive director, and had to leave the family behind to see the Toledo house. So I needed a place to room in Jackson, and decide I could introduce myself to the town and learn about it by staying in ‘Green Book’ lodging. Mrs. Moorman’s place was not far from my new office. If I’d stayed only a day or two, I’d have learned nothing much, because Mrs. Moorman was initially a bit suspicious of me — she didn’t ordinarily have white guests, and this one was a municipal employee in a town with a long racist history.
“But,” Don continued, “I had time to work through her unease. She was knowledgeable and perceptive, and began to share stories. And soon after, she ran for and got elected to the city commission, the first black commissioner ever.”
And now, for the finish: “While lots of not-good stuff happened in Jackson during that time, I have fond memories of Mrs. Moorman, a woman in her 70s during those great days of the Green Book.”
I had never heard of Jackson, Ohio, until I got Don’s note the other day. At first, I thought he was talking about Jackson, Mississippi, which we all know was a “not-good stuff” place in those days.


Boursin on sale; memories of Aunt Polly included

Posted on 06 March 2019 by admin

Sometimes something small, something altogether ridiculous, evokes a memory that is neither of the above.
So it was with me when I looked into the cheese section of my favorite supermarket and saw a small box of French Boursin on sale for $2.98 — about half of its regular price. About the same price that was regular for it almost 50 years ago, when I first visited my long-gone Aunt Polly in North Carolina.
Boursin was her favorite cheese. It was expensive even then, but she always had some on hand when she had company. I had never bought it at all, but when I tasted it there for the first time, I was hooked. However, not enough to indulge myself by spending that kind of money on a small block of cheese when I got back home, where I was newly on my own and totally responsible for the upkeep of two children on my own salary.
Still, the desire lingered for a while. After some time, it slowly faded away, but I always remembered that Aunt Polly gave the best to her company, and I tried to emulate her in that (minus the costly Boursin). And I also learned from her about “the “gettin’ place,” a spot where she squirreled away potential gifts. There was always something waiting for anticipated birthdays and anniversaries, new babies, holidays, other special occasions and unexpected visitors.
When Aunt Polly was diagnosed with lung cancer, her doctor, her family, she herself and everyone who knew her knew it was her final illness. One day, when she was still able to be out and about on her own, a neighbor spotted Aunt Polly shopping in a jewelry store. Far from being the world’s most subtle person, that woman asked, “Why are you buying jewelry now?” And Aunt Polly, her usual cool self, answered, “It’s not for me. I’m buying it to give away!”
In her honor and memory, I set up my own “gettin’ place,” in the back of a walk-in closet. But over the years, the closet seems to have gotten much smaller as the accumulation has grown much bigger. I now keep bags — one for each branch of the family, one for holiday items, one for children (like Aunt Polly, I keep things on hand in case a child comes by — maybe with a visiting adult, or if I’ll be visiting a home with kids). And there are others: one filled with Judaica suited for weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs, one just for items I’ve liked enough to bring home with the idea that someday I’d find the right time to give it to the right person, whomever that might be. (Truthfully, that last bag is the one that always overflows.) I also keep a pile of books — for both adults and children — in a nearby corner.
Now, here’s the cheese connection: That lonely little box of Boursin in the supermarket took me back to my first taste on my first visit, and then to the one made for Aunt Polly’s funeral. She was only 60, yet it was the effort of will she’d made that kept her that long, until she was able to empty out her “gettin’ place.” (Lately, I’ve managed to curb my advance gift buying, fearing that many, if not most, of these items will outlive my identifying the right recipients for them.)
So I put the Boursin into my cart, finished shopping for the things on my list (and also the few others that called me to take them home as well), and gladly paid the reduced price, which I’m sure was the full price when Aunt Polly also gifted her visitors with local cigarettes that cost $2 a carton! And as soon as I arrived, I opened that little box, picked up a spoon, and ate every bit of it!


Judy Borejdo’s legacy can be found in Tycher Library and its books

Posted on 28 February 2019 by admin

I arrived in Dallas in 1980. How many of you can go back there with me?
The Dallas Jewish Community Center was quite different from what it is now. My husband and I joined quickly, mainly because we could play ping-pong there. I don’t see any table any more.
However, I was intrigued by what was going on in that area of the first floor to the immediate left, as you enter. What is now a major meeting room was then a sort of “warren,” a string of places to pass through. At the far back was the first home of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society. It housed one desk, one file cabinet and some beautiful prints sent by the company that supplied tulip bulbs; selling them yearly was the organization’s only fundraiser. (I’ve often wondered who got those prints, and who has them today. If you know, or are that person, please confess.)
In the middle was a sort of reading room: Large tables, racks of newspapers, some tall shelving units holding reference books — most of them Jewish. In the front, you were in the library. Not much of a library, as libraries go; now we have the full-scale Tycher Library on the second floor. But then, that was it. Some shelved books, and a rack of old paperbacks that were routinely given away. This little haven for readers was presided over by Judy Borejdo. I walked in there one day wearing a T-shirt I’d gotten on a recent trip to Australia; Judy recognized it right away as the design of a friend of hers. That’s how I learned this ersatz “librarian” had a fascinating history. It vanished very recently, with Judy’s death.
After the JCC’s remodeling, after a real library was created on the second floor, Judy followed it upstairs. She was not a professional librarian, but nobody had more interest in books than she did. That’s why she had the task of running that mini-library on the first floor, likely as a volunteer. I’m sure nobody else wanted to do it.
Things were different in the new environment. There were computers, comfortable chairs and separate spaces for adults and children. And suddenly, there was so much activity. A committee was organized to help direct the new library’s policies and programming, there were memberships solicited at various levels and someone — not Judy — was named as director. But Judy stayed on, using her remarkable knowledge of books and what readers would like to see on the new shelves. Finally, a professional librarian was hired, and much that had been hands-on and informal before became more routine. Still, Judy remained.
Soon after the start of this year, I led a book discussion in the library. Judy was there. Judy had arranged it, as she had arranged a calendar of book discussions throughout the years, from the library’s move and growth until just a short while ago. Always frail, never completely healthy, Judy became very sick. Soon, she was terminal. She was no longer in the library. Finally, she left us permanently. There was so much rain on the day of her funeral, I had to believe that the skies were crying for her, reminding us of our loss.
The Tycher Library is an underused gem on the JCC’s second floor. There’s even an elevator to make access easier. But not so many people read books any more, as e-readers have replaced words on paper between covers for a good many. But if you knew Judy at all, or even if you didn’t, please do me a favor and make that trip upstairs in her honored memory. See what she — a true book-lover — helped bring about. Hold a book, a real book, in your hands and think of Judy Borejdo. She worked hard. She deserves to be remembered. She will be greatly missed by all of us who still read books.


Reviewing Isaac Shapiro’s ‘Edokko’

Posted on 21 February 2019 by admin

If you think you’ve heard everything about what happened to our fellow Jews in those dark years of the 1930s and World War II, please think again. I learned a great deal from a 202-page paperback autobiography that tells the tale of an incredible life lived in Japan.
Isaac (“Ike”) Shapiro’s autobiography is called “Edokko,” a word denoting someone who has lived an entire lifetime in Japan, preferably representing at least the third generation of a family. But the book’s subtitle clarifies his status: “Growing up a Stateless Foreigner in Wartime Japan.” How could such a thing be?
The author’s forebears might well be the perfect examples of the proverbial “Wandering Jews.” The families of his parents, Constantine Shapiro of Moscow and Lydia Chernetsky of Odessa, fled the pogroms of Russia. The Chernetskys ended up in Harbin, China, in 1905, while the Shapiros settled in Japan after the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Constantine and Lydia, both professional musicians, met and married in Berlin, then left Germany. They tried, unsuccessfully, to make a decent living by playing with orchestras and giving private lessons in both Palestine and China, before giving up and joining Constantine’s parents in Japan. That’s where Isaac was born in January 1931, the fourth of four boys — twins among them.
It was not a peaceful life, especially as the parents separated just six months after their youngest son’s birth. His mother returned to Harbin, China, to live with her now-widowed father.
According to the author, “As far as any of us knew, there never was ‘another woman’…all we knew was that in July 1931, at the age of 25, she decided to leave Papa; she found herself married to a man who had taken her to live in far-off places, and who appeared unable to earn enough money to provide for his family.”
Of course, the boys went with her. “Being only six months old at the time, I have no memory of our taking leave of Papa or Japan,” Shapiro wrote, “so that when we returned there in June 1936, when I was five, it was like a first encounter.” And, in 1939, Isaac became a big brother when his mother gave birth to a fifth son.
Shapiro had a classical education at the Yokohama International School, and was a quick study of required languages, including French and English. But it was his fluency in Japanese that determined the course of his life. He absorbed all the history being lived at that time: Hitler’s “non-aggression” pact with Russia, all the invasions and occupations of European countries that triggered World War II. However, he recalled that “The coming of the war with the United States and its allies was a slow but steady tidal wave…Japan was now allied with Hitler, and we feared that the Japanese would develop a more hostile attitude toward foreigners who were neither Italian or German, and — in particular — toward Jews.”
The Shapiro family learned from German-Jewish refugees arriving in Japan about the new racial laws of Nazi-occupied Germany, but not at that early time about the extermination camps.
What happened next proves Mark Twain’s wisdom: Truth is always stranger than fiction because fiction must look to what’s possible, but truth can turn the impossible into the possible.
The Shapiro family lived through all the Allied bombings and, with Japan’s occupation, young Isaac was taken under the wing of American Marines, who offered him work as an interpreter. This led to his move with to the United States at age 15 under a protective mentor, to graduation from Columbia University and its law school, to serving in the U.S. Army, and to becoming an American citizen. Today, Shapiro is recognized as a premier international attorney, with offices in the United States and Europe.
The only thing more remarkable than Shapiro’s life story is his incredible memory for detail. The “bite” I’ve given you here is just an appetizer to an amazingly satisfying full meal.
Issac Shapiro’s “Edokko: Growing Up a Foreigner in Wartime Japan” is available on Amazon.


A Midwestern town and Tree-of-Life tragedy

Posted on 14 February 2019 by admin

My train of thought has pulled into the Tree of Life station. I can update you on the deadly anti-Semitic massacre that seems to me like yesterday, but was actually almost four months ago. I’m indebted to Sean Hamill of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for providing the facts and figures.
Of course, figures mean money, which always comes in quickly following a tragedy. What else can people do after the dead are buried and the wounded survivors are receiving care? Here, the figures are incredible. My old hometown received an astounding $10 million from many sources. And, donations keep coming in.
Adam Harrison of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is tasked with the tracking. Money came from T-shirt sales, from entertainment venues taking donations at their entrances and from GoFundMe campaigns. In one such campaign, an Iranian refugee graduate student raised $700,000 in just two days, and continued until his total was $1.2 million. (The North Texas Jewish community heard from this remarkable student, Shay Khatiri, an AIPAC activist when he told his story at the annual AIPAC dessert reception at the Hyatt Regency Sunday night.) About the donors — large and small, organizational and individual — Harrison said this: “People just wanted to help. The giving has been an expression of their grief, and an expression of their desire to help and heal.”
But here is the story of the most unusual fundraiser of them all. This story is remarkable enough to be remembered forever in a city now overrun with good deeds, and should stand out as a shining example of what good exists, even in the smallest parts of America.
Gurnee is a small Illinois town, 40 miles north of Chicago. In that town, Warren Township High School’s drama club was preparing for the final performance of its fall show, when word was released about Tree of Life. As a coincidence (but I can’t help believing this was all the hand of God at work), their play was: “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering Anne Frank.” An unusually somber audience for any student production anywhere heard an announcement before the curtain went up: This last night’s show was dedicated to the victims of the Tree of Life shooting. And at the end, the performers lit candles in honor.
Yet, this wasn’t the final curtain call. The school’s social worker and teacher, who directed the play, immediately emailed administrators. “This was not enough,” she said. “Can we do something else?”
The following Monday, when the 35-member cast and crew members gathered to take down the play’s set, they were told to leave it alone, because they would be performing one more show — a Tree of Life fundraiser. The next Sunday, Nov. 4, was set for their Anne Frank “encore.”
Using the week between the first scheduled closing and the additional performance, these students “…responded by posting fliers all over town, organizing a Facebook fundraiser, and getting the word out through social media,” according to their teacher — who isn’t Jewish herself. The school auditorium’s 150 seats sold out, with $3,000 raised at the show itself. An additional $2,000 came in from the kids’ online efforts. All of it was sent immediately to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Quite rightly, the final words were these that came from a truly inspiring teacher: “To do this, to be able to bless and support the people you are trying to recognize with a fundraiser — this was special. It was an honor to help.”
And here are my final words: Now I can get my mental train back on track again. But I’ll never forget this briefest of stops at an otherwise obscure Midwestern high school, where the best of all that America should stand for came to life in combat against the worst that ever happened here to our people.


Unraveling a linguistic mystery

Posted on 06 February 2019 by admin

Today, I’m asking you to help me unravel what I consider a linguistic mystery, but which I bet most folks have never even noticed or paid attention to. I’m referring to a rather standard passage in “Siddur Sim Shalom,” the (if you’ll allow me to use this word in this particular context — no disrespect intended) “Bible” of Shabbat worship at many, if not most, Conservative synagogues across America.
My field is English, so I’m professionally and otherwise hyper-sensitive to words in that language and what they mean — not just by definition, but in context. And there is one particular word in the Amidah for the Shabbat evening service that “niggles” me every week. Here is the passage, which you can find at the top of page 299. I’m setting that bothersome (at least to me) word in CAPS:
“The heavens and the earth, and all they contain, were completed. On the seventh day God FINISHED the work which He had been doing. Then God blessed the seventh day and called it holy, because on it He ceased from all His work of creation.”
The problem I see here is this: We’ve all been taught to believe that God labored for six days to create the entire world as we know it, and then declared Day Seven as a time of rest. I thought we are enjoined to do the same as God had done. But here we have the strange word that declares God actually FINISHED THE WORK WHICH HE HAD BEEN DOING on the seventh day itself! He wasn’t done on the day before, according to this English wording; to say that He was done on the sixth day, this part of the passage should read that God “HAD FINISHED the work which He had been doing.” And there’s additional confirmation further along, in the very next passage: “He CEASED on the seventh day from all the work which He had done.”
In a classroom of students learning grammar, I would point out that both these verbs — as used here in this text — indicate ongoing activity, and the activity here, which is Creation itself, was completed at some time on the seventh day, when God FINISHED His work, and CEASED from working altogether. The “marker” of verbal tense is the opening phrase, “On the seventh day.” Somehow, this wording not merely suggests, but actually states, that the work we have all believed was completed on the sixth day held over for at least a bit into Day Seven.
So today, all of you who are reading this make up my “classroom” of English grammar students. The implication — if not the Biblical fact — is that God was not quite through; the text tells us quite clearly in the passage’s final sentence: “Then God blessed the seventh day and called it holy because ON IT (there’s the proof! not BEFORE IT!) He ceased from all His work of creation.” This bit of wording is even clearer than the others — it states, not just implies, that God’s work went on until He finished it — on the seventh day itself.
I really should have taken this matter up with the editor and translator of “Siddur Sim Shalom,” Rabbi Jules Harlow, many years ago. But not now: He will be 88 years old this coming June, and in his lifetime has written, compiled, edited, translated, etc., several libraries’ worth of Judaica, all of it highly praised. And rightly so. He also founded “My Jewish Learning,” which took our Judaism to the internet early on, making it easily accessible for so many. And this book, this truly beloved siddur, was made available to my synagogue and so many others back in 1985 — and we all took advantage of it, and are still using it. So no, I won’t bother him now. But if you understand my distracting dilemma, please let me know what you think about it.
Harriet Gross can be reached at


Dinner Table: diverse group, a hearty meal

Posted on 30 January 2019 by admin

Last week I asked what you did on Tu B’Shevat. This week I’m asking: What did you do on Martin Luther King Day? I chose to attend Dallas Dinner Table, a deceptively casual-seeming event started quite a few years ago by some folks who thought that race relations could be improved if a small group of people would simply sit down, have a meal and talk together. The idea was to mix ages, sexes, races, religions and ethnicities around a dinner table, and maybe some learning and mutual understanding could be the result.
Well, nobody has yet been able to measure the success of that idea in mathematical terms. But those who’ve attended — myself included — endorse the idea as an eye-opener, and at least a potential mind-opener. And when open minds lead to understanding, maybe changes will follow.
The first Dinner Table I attended was a free-for-all: There was no agenda, just talk; the food was the icebreaker. Or maybe it was our hosts: two gay young men who shared a house, which was where we had our dinner. In the years since, I’ve gone to Dinner Tables in a church — an office building — a restaurant — a shop in a strip center — but mostly in other private homes. Whether the food is catered, home-cooked or “takeout” brought to another venue, it’s always the responsibility of those who host — the food is their contribution to the idea, and to its purpose.
This year, I was assigned to an unassuming-looking house on one of the Dallas “M” streets. (Side note: Yes, participants are assigned. Yes, this is well-intentioned, but not always successful. First I was assigned to the same church where I’d been last year, and when I asked if that was a good idea, the answer was my assignment to the home of a family I already knew! But three is indeed a charm, and my final assignment was very successful.) The hostess is an artist, and the house is full of her amazing works — many, in many media. She and her husband are also good cooks and bakers, so the meal — simple, as are all Dinner Table meals — was salad, homemade stews (meat and vegetarian options) and wonderful chocolate cake. This was their third Dinner Table; they have enough space to host two tables of attendees, and at evening’s end they promised to do it again next year.
The first Dinner Table I attended had no moderator. But many — if not most — things change with experience. There are now some guidelines and actual guides: Leaders bring icebreakers and question-and-answer “games” to get the conversational ball rolling. There’s a leader at every table, a role given in advance to individuals who choose it. You don’t have to be a professional of any kind to do this; everyone wanting to take part in this human relations adventure is asked to choose in advance between leading or just plain participating. (I always pick the latter.)
The surprise at my table of seven was that the person most peppered with questions about life experiences wasn’t Black, or Oriental, or Muslim or Jewish — it was a Christian Hispanic female who had the most interesting stories to share. Our white host was seated next to our black leader, a woman who kept us on point and on time: Dinner Tables take exactly three hours, ending promptly at nine.
A bonus for me, as the only Jew in this group, was that this year, Martin Luther King Day actually fell on the same day as Tu B’Shevat, so I was able to give my table-mates a bit of information on a holiday none of them had ever heard of before. And everyone agreed that planting trees is akin to planting ideas, which we all did plenty of that evening.
So I encourage you to consider Dallas Dinner Table as a way to observe a great American’s birthday. I assure you: The present will be yours.


A fruit-based Seder to honor Tu B’Shevat

Posted on 24 January 2019 by admin

This past Monday was Tu B’Shevat. Did you celebrate it? Did you mark it in any way? Do you even know what it is?
I had the recent opportunity to lead a Tu B’Shevat Seder for Herzl Hadassah. I asked for this privilege to honor the memory of longtime Herzl member Natalie Lewis, who passed away in her 90s during 2018. Before she left Dallas to live near her children in the D.C. area, she was a noted area bookseller who advised book groups about their choices, a religious school teacher for more than 50 years, a dear friend to many (including me), and a Hadassah stalwart who conducted this early-spring event herself for several years.
Most Jews think that “Seder” is a word confined to Pesach. But in truth, it means “order”: to do things in a specific order, as we are commanded by our guidebook, the Haggadah, at the Passover table.
Popularizing the Tu B’Shevat Seder is a gift from the Reform movement, which produced a simple “Haggadah” for it several decades ago. Its form — its “order” — takes us on the same kind of journey we travel at the Passover table, giving us the same kind of understanding of how to observe the holiday as we go: At its table, we also drink four cups of wine, but instead of matzo and the Seder plate’s mandated foods, we eat at least three fruits (a word that in this context also includes nuts) that grow in Israel. We may choose those we like, but according to specific “rules” — one whose hard outside covers an edible center; then the reverse, one whose edible outside covers a center that we cannot eat; finally, one to be eaten whole, its inside and outside together. You can see how this can also become a delicious holiday.
In Israel, Tu B’Shevat (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of that name) is for planting trees, so some call it “the Jewish Arbor Day”; its other name is “the birthday of the trees,” because every living tree is considered one year older on that date. Here, like this year, planting is sometimes impossible. But uncooperative weather isn’t enough reason to neglect the annual celebration.
At our Hadassah Seder, we served up, along with our fruits, both white and red fruit juices — no wine for a bunch of primarily senior women at 10 a.m. These were poured and mixed appropriately as needed, at four times during the Seder, to represent four stages of tree and plant growth: first, all white, the earliest awakening; second, white tinted with red to make pale pink, for buds fully opening; third, a half-and-half of the two, showing a high point of growth; and the final fourth cup — all red — representing that growth in its ultimate fullness.
Our “fruits” of choice were oranges and almonds, because the almond tree is the first springtime bloomer in Israel; unpitted olives; and figs, which are totally edible, tiny seeds and all. Of course, before each fruit and each drink we offered the traditional blessings for God’s gifts of vine, earth and tree. This routine, this “Seder,” is a wonderful way to teach children (as well as our unknowing selves) about a holiday so little-known and little-observed by Jews in America.
I tell you this with hopes of encouraging more local observance of this springtime holiday. Even if we can’t actually dig in the earth to plant something new, we can remember and honor the advice of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, whose wisdom comes down to us from the time of the Second Temple: “If you have a sapling in your hand, and someone comes to tell you that the Messiah has arrived, first plant the tree, and only then go out to welcome the Messiah.”
P.S. If you dislike carob, the most traditional Tu B’Shevat fruit, as much as I do, no one will penalize you for observing the holiday without it.


A meaningful Star of David makes its debut

Posted on 16 January 2019 by admin

I made a promise to myself on the day of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in my native Pittsburgh: I would no longer go out in public without something identifiably Jewish around my neck. I have stars, Hamsas, even a miniature State of Israel made there from the metal of a scud rocket. I have silver and gold to match any outfit. As if that were the important thing, which of course it is not…
What is important: I can finally let go of the shaming insult I received as a teenager from a shoe salesman. Too bad my feet are long and narrow and hard to fit; what he commented on was the necklace I was wearing. And what he said was, “You Star of David girls are never satisfied with anything.” I didn’t wear anything identifiably Jewish after that — except in Jewish settings only — my Boubby the Philosopher’s old star, set with bits of marcasite that sparkled like diamonds.
She gave it to me immediately after my wedding, just before my husband and I left for New York to be unit directors at a big Jewish camp in the Catskills. I put it on and never took it off until, in mid-August, the chain broke, and I put the star aside to await my next chance to shop for a replacement. But it never happened, because that same night, the staff residence in which we lived burned to the ground, taking Boubby’s star along with it. I’ve tried for years to replace it, but — as the old saying goes — “close, but no cigar.”
That lost star isn’t my favorite story. This one is: When Fred and I visited Poland, first we saw the Holocaust horror sites, but then we visited one of the country’s other main draws: the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow. It’s really an underground museum, since miners over centuries have carved statues in that salt. Down we went on an elevator with other visitors for a long look. Previously, in both Warsaw and Krakow, I had visited shop after shop stocked with items carved from the ubiquitous amber of that area, looking in vain for any Jewish star. There were hundreds and thousands of crosses in all sizes, but not a star anywhere. Should I have been surprised? Frustrated.
I just abandoned my search.
But of course, this mine, like most tourist attractions, had a gift shop, where I gave my hunt one last try: “Do you have any six-pointed stars?” I asked the young woman behind the counter. “A Jewish star?” She answered no, which didn’t surprise me. But as I started to walk away, she called me back to wait a moment. And, reaching under her counter, she brought up a small box of odds-and-ends, pulling from it a pair of earrings — small, dangling stars of silver, each centered with amber. I asked no questions, paid whatever she wanted and brought my treasure home.
I do not wear earrings, having been warned never to put any weight on either ear ‘way back in 1969, when I had surgery to remove a tumor from behind the right one. So, I took these to a jeweler friend, who formed a pendant for me — one star atop the other. Today was my day to wear it for the first time since the massacre.
Since making that personal promise to wear a Jewish symbol every day for the rest of my life, I have done so. And no one yet has ever made a comment on anything that was hanging around my neck. Sorry to disappoint you, but today (which was a week before you’re reading this), nobody said a word, either. I’m disappointed, myself. And I puzzle over this: Are my most treasured symbols invisible? Well, it doesn’t matter: It was enough just to be a proud, public Jew, wearing what may well have been the last Jewish stars left in Poland.


New customs are great, but I prefer the old ways

Posted on 10 January 2019 by admin

“Wow! That would really jar your mother’s pickles!” That was the nonsensical phrase my own mother always used when something strange hovered on her horizon. I’ve never used it until now, but there’s a first time for everything, I guess. For me, this is it.
The Women’s League for Conservative Judaism (since I’m a Jew strongly identified with a Conservative congregation, that’s one of my favorite organizations) has announced that — just in time for the annual World Wide Wrap begun years ago by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs — it’s now joining the men to “truly educate and encourage women to don tefillin, and embrace the mitzvah…” The premise — and promise — are to give women the increased spirituality that men achieve by drawing closer to God in this particular way.
“Spirituality” is a buzzword these days. I recently received a pamphlet about how to be spiritual without being religious. But I consider myself both: a person religious and spiritual, without separating the two. I have never thought tefillin would increase either of these things.
Full disclosure: My being religious and spiritual is not only possible and present without tefillin, but I embrace both without a tallit as well. My decision not to wear that came a long, long time ago, because I was educated in Judaism a long, long time ago by men. They said some things were not for women, and I believed them. And I live with those old “beliefs” — for that is what they are — to this day. I’m sure I’m wrong in the eyes of many, but I am content in myself. The things I was denied as a female Jew in the predominantly male Jewish world of my growing-up time set patterns for me that even now, when my choice is to keep or break them, I choose the former.
Believe it or not, this isn’t always easy. My congregation allows me to bless the Torah, but when I ascend the bima to do so, I do not touch it. I do not carry any on Simchat Torah. When one is paraded past me on Shabbat mornings, I “kiss” it with the binding of my prayer book. This is how I grew up, and it still satisfies me. However, a (male) rabbi once, fairly recently, chastised me for not donning a tallit: “Why are you denying yourself that spirituality?” was what he asked. And I answered, “My spirituality does not reside in a piece of cloth.” I was not happy with his question, and I’m sure he wasn’t happy with my response, either.
Girls of my time did not go to Hebrew school, and a bat mitzvah was not yet a rite of female passage. So, I never felt deprived of things that clearly were not mine, and I grew up happily Jewish without them. I still live happily Jewish without them. I have not wanted a bat mitzvah as an adult any more than I want to wear a tallit or adopt the straps and boxes of tefillin. I am happy for girls — and women — of today who have these opportunities and want to take advantage of them, but I am not envious.
For me, religion and spirituality — Judaism and Jewish spirituality — go together. They are united in my very bones, and cannot be separated. And I feel the latter in a way of internal peace that needs no external enhancement.
So: What does it mean, to “jar your mother’s pickles”? Maybe to put cucumbers and brine together in a jar and let them sit and mellow into something quite different — an act of creation of a sort. Or it could mean to shake the jar — maybe to the point of its falling and shattering, destroying its contents altogether. I choose the first. The opportunities open to women today do not upset my metaphoric pickles, which continue to satisfy me as I live happily, and Jewishly, without them.
Your opinions are welcome.


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